Episode 349: The Seventh Flying Cloud Christmas Special
They'd made it back to Broome without dipping too far into their reserves.
Now the Flying Cloud was receiving some much-needed resupply.
The adventurers took advantage of this time to relax and exchange stories at
the bungalow Captain Sanders had let near the shore -- one advantage of
commercial service was something known as an 'expense account'.
"That was a rather remarkable series of events," marveled the skipper, after
all the tales had been told.
"It was also reasonably productive," Everett observed. "We may not have
completed our official mission, but we did manage to destroy a secret
military installation belonging to potential foes of the Empire. This was
some reward for our efforts."
"Do you think there will be any fuss about letting those American gangsters
"We were not specifically ordered to apprehend them," said Everett. "We
were only instructed to put an end to their piracy. This we did."
"By suggesting they head back to the States and throwing in plunder from
George Channel's clandestine railway depot to sweeten the terms of their
departure," Miss Perkins said tartly.
"Perhaps," said Everett, "but one must judge an operation by the results it
achieves rather than the methods involved."
"What about Miss Kim?" asked MacKiernan. "We never did manage to find the
"I imagine she'll reappear eventually," said Everett. "We will hope she
doesn't prove as troublesome as the mysterious Natasha."
"Life is much simpler in the commercial service," said Captain Sanders.
"Are things always this complicated in the Royal Navy?"
"Only when Captain Everett is involved!" said Clarice and Emily.
Everett glanced at two young women and gave a rueful smile. He had to admit
there might be some truth to their observation.
Sanders chuckled. "This reminds me of an event from my early days as an
Clarice and Emily brightened at the prospect of another story. "Do tell!"
The skipper took a sip from his drink, set it aside, and leaned back in his
chair to reflect. "This happened in Carlisle, shortly after the Peace," he
began. "Back then, I was flying for the Royal Mail..."
Like many commercial captains, I got my start in the postal service. The
Mail needs airmen, it's a good way to gain experience, and the passengers
don't complain very often. We flew the old Junior Shorts Class in those
days. They handled like logs, they drank down fuel like a sailor on holiday,
and their cargo capacity was nothing to write home about, but they were good
for a solid day's work... as long as the day didn't involve anything urgent.
Unfortunately, this particular day did. It was Christmas Eve, and should
have been a holiday, but some of our patrons needed to ship cargoes at the
last minute. The course schedule seemed straightforward enough -- a chain
of deliveries, picking up cargo at one station to carry to the next -- and
it was a chance for flight pay, so my crew and I volunteered.
Our schedule began with a flight to a hamlet named Bellingham, in southern
Scotland, to pick up a dozen border collies. The place was too bucolic to
have a mooring mast, but we arrived in the morning, before the wind picked
up, and some stalwart lads from the village came out to take our handling
lines and hold the ship in position while we loaded our cargo.
This was a bit of trouble. Border collies are famous for their loyalty,
bravery, and intelligence -- there was one in the North Country that could
understand a vocabulary of two hundred words, solve basic algebra problems,
and operate simple farm machinery -- but they're active and energetic
animals that don't take well to being confined in travel cages. We could
barely hear the engines over the noise of their barking, and one dog escaped
to run along the keel passage. He gave my crew quite a chase before they
cornered him in the tail cone.
As you can imagine, we were glad to reach our destination: a small seaport
named Hartlepool on the North Sea coast. The recipient turned out to be a
ropeworks near the Jackson Docks. This came as something of a surprise to
us. It was an even greater surprise to the manager.
"Whatever would we want these sheepdogs for?" he asked. "We were expecting
a load of cordage!"
"Your name is right here on the bill of lading," I told him.
"There must have been a mistake," he replied. "But there's no time to sort
this out now. We'll board those dogs for you while you deliver this cargo
You might think nets would be more tractable than dogs, but as the manager
had hinted, this shipment had been packed in a hurry, and bits of netting
kept coming free at the damnedest moments. We had a devil of a time keeping
them free of the machinery, and we almost hoisted some stevedores aboard
along with the pallet of cargo. At last we got everything squared away and
headed to the next place on our itinerary.
This proved to be Dumfries, an old market town on the banks of the River
Nith. I believe it was a royal burgh back in the time of William the Lion,
but now there was little to distinguish it from any other small town in the
Border Counties. It seemed a strange place to deliver nets, since the only
visible industry was sheep farming, and the consignee was perplexed by our
"What are we supposed to do with all this fishing gear?" he demanded. "What
we need here are sheepdogs. But we'll sort this out after we get these
My chief rigger and I glanced at each other. "Sheep?" he asked.
"You lads claim you'll deliver anything. Sheep is part of `anything'."
"Right," he admitted.
I've hauled many cargoes in my career, but those sheep were among the worst.
There was no way to crate them individually, so we had to bring them aboard
in pens. This played havoc with trim, and I must say, all that `baaing' got
old after awhile. There was also an issue of hygiene. Sheep may be clean
animals, but we still had to deal with `drainage', and we never did get rid
of all those droppings.
The destination turned out to be Stranraer. This is a picturesque fishing
village on the shores of Loch Ryan in the southwest of Scotland. It was the
home of Sir John Ross, the famous polar explorer. It also houses some
noteworthy examples of late medieval architecture, such as the Castle of
St John, but shepherds were noteworthy by their absence.
By now, I was beginning to have doubts about our delivery schedule, and
the recipient seemed equally dubious when we lowered the hoist. "I'm a
fisherman!'" he exclaimed. "What do I need these sheep for? I won't
accept this shipment, but I will get Angus to watch over the animals while
you deliver this load of fish."
The fish were, if anything, even worse than the sheep. They may not have
been quite as noisy, but the smell was remarkable, and you don't know the
meaning of the word `terror' until you're walking along the keel passage and
slip on a herring. We made the flight at full power, hoping the slipstream
would draw off some of the smell. This hope proved unfounded, but we did
reach our next destination ahead of schedule. This was a textile mill in
Hawick, some distance northwest of Newcastle on Tyne. It didn't seem the
sort of place that would seem to have any urgent need for fish, and the
manager was perplexed by our shipment.
"What am I supposed to do with fish?" he demanded. "You can't shear them
and run their scales through a spinning wheel."
"No," I sighed, "I rather imagine you can't."
The man shook his head and gestured toward a row of crates. "I won't sign
the order bill," he announced, "but will make out a temporary receipt and
store the shipment for you so you can load these spools of twine."
Our final destination was a fish processing plant in Irvine, on the Firth of
Clyde. This was once a prosperous port -- I believe Nobel had an explosives
plant there during Queen Victoria's reign. It's fallen on hard times since
then because of competition from Glasgow, but it's still home to several
fish processing plants.
Our delivery was addressed to one of these. The fellows didn't seem
entirely pleased to receive an assortment of cordage, but Scots are a stoic
lot, used to dealing with life's vicissitudes. They agreed to find a place
for the crates while we took aboard a load of dog biscuits.
"Sir" my head rigger remarked, after we'd swung these aboard, "I believe I
detect something of a pattern here."
"So do I," I sighed. "Someone in the Carlisle office must have shuffled
the consigner and consignee information when they drew up our route."
"What should we do?"
I glanced at our map of the Border Counties, checked the wind forecast, and
studied the ballast board. We might face a bit of a challenge, but it never
does to admit these things. "We'll carry this dog food to Bellingham, nip
over to Hartlepool to pick up the sheepdogs, deliver them to Dumfries,
recover the nets, fly these to Stranraer, bring the sheep back aboard, and
transport those to Hawick where we'll load the fish for delivery here."
"Can we possibly manage?" he asked when I paused for breath.
"If we're quick about it, we can be home in time for our Christmas Eve
By the time Sanders finished his tale, even Miss Perkins was chuckling.
"Do things like that really happen in the Mail Service?" asked Clarice and
"More often than you might imagine," said Sanders, "but they are not widely
"Did you ever determine who was responsible for the slipup?"
The skipper smiled and shook his head. "I suppose we could have. But it
was Christmas Season, and surely this is a time for forgiveness."
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you from the crew of His Majesty's
Airship, the Flying Cloud!
We hope you look back with joy upon the year that was and forward with
anticipation to the year that is to come.
The Royal Navy Airship Service will be on vacation for two weeks while our
heroes (and heroines) relax on the beach.
Season Eight will begin on 11-Jan-2016. We look forward to